Who's responsible for another major Phillies setback?

usa-colehamels-phillies.jpg

Who's responsible for another major Phillies setback?

He said he felt “really great.” He said he was “pain free.” He said he was in a “really good position to progress.” He said so a week ago.

On Thursday, Cole Hamels said something different.

The lefthander, who is dealing with tendinitis in his pitching shoulder, informed reporters in Clearwater that his body was telling him to “take a step back and start over.” How do you take a step back from feeling really great and pain free? That is some curious footwork.

“I felt good when I threw my last bullpen, everything was great,” Hamels said about last Saturday’s session. “But later that day and the next day, my arm felt fatigued. After 35 pitches, my body felt like I had thrown 1,000.”

That is a powerful and troubling statement. Here’s what you prefer not to hear from your 30-year-old front-of-rotation pitcher: That throwing a handful of pitches in early March makes him feel like his arm might fall off. That is generally bad news for a team that's counting on the same pitcher to help the Phils recover from last season's dreadful campaign.

Hamels said the best way to describe his condition is “dead arm or frozen arm.” You’re forgiven if the colloquialisms don’t anesthetize your concerns. You’re also forgiven if you don’t quite understand why Hamels said there are no plans for a cortisone injection or even an MRI.

How is that possible? How is it that the Phillies' front office isn’t insisting on extensive tests? Hamels is on a six-year, $144 million contract. For that kind of money, Ruben Amaro Jr. should load him into a car and take him to the hospital every time Hamels gets the sniffles. You can’t be too careful.

A week ago, Hamels trumpeted his progression. Now we’re left to talk about this unexpected regression. Or maybe it’s not so unexpected. This is how the last few spring trainings have gone for the Phillies. If spring is about hope for most teams, it has recently been something much darker for the Phils.

A year ago, Roy Halladay showed up in Clearwater and said he felt better than he had in a while. He imploded early in the season, had surgery, made a brief return, was eventually shut down again, and then retired. You might recall he had arm fatigue.

Last spring, Ryan Howard reported to camp and declared he felt fine. He had been dealing with Achilles and knee issues but said he was healthy. Then he played 80 games last season. He played 71 the year before. If you’re wondering, he came to spring training this year and said he’s ship-shape.

In February 2011, Chase Utley said he had some knee pain that “comes and goes.” He was listed as day-to-day, which was technically true. Days came and days went and Utley missed the first 46 games of that season. He played 103 games in 2011.

Utley also reported knee pain during spring training in 2012. Again, it was explained as a wait-and-see thing. Utley chose therapy over surgery. He missed the first 77 outings that season and appeared in just 83 games.

The observant have no doubt recognized a disquieting pattern. Player shows up for spring training. Player is dealing with some physical issue. Player says there’s nothing to worry about. Player suffers a setback. Nothing to worry about becomes something. And now here we are once more, mired in injury limbo with a younger player (relatively speaking) the Phils can ill-afford to lose.

“I think, ultimately, when people think shoulder and not being able to throw a baseball, they think injuries, tears, the pain indication,” Hamels said. “It’s not that. It’s really tired and it was kind of more difficult to go through the throwing motion, let alone try to throw something very competitive.

“The shoulder really doesn’t want to throw the ball the way I want to against hitters. My muscles just weren’t responding. And you have to listen to the way your body responds.”

You have to wonder how this continues to happen and who’s ultimately responsible. Because the way it keeps playing out, it feels like the Phils' medical evaluation protocol mirrors what used to occur in pick-up games in your neighbor’s backyard. Someone would hurt something, and then someone else would ask if he’s OK, and then the first someone would say yes. We’re at the point now where it wouldn’t be surprising if Hamels said he would try to walk it off or rub some dirt on it.

Best of MLB: Yankees stay hot with win over sloppy Giants

Best of MLB: Yankees stay hot with win over sloppy Giants

NEW YORK -- Giants Gold Glove shortstop Brandon Crawford made three errors for the first time in his career, with his wild throw in the eighth inning giving the New York Yankees a 3-2 win Friday night that sent San Francisco to its season-worst sixth straight loss.

The Giants held the best record in the majors at the All-Star break, but haven't won since. They also lost catcher Buster Posey, who fouled a ball off his right foot and left with a bruise. X-rays were negative and he was listed as day to day.

Masahiro Tanaka shut out San Francisco for six innings, giving up four singles. Giants ace Madison Bumgarner went seven innings, allowing two runs.

The Giants nicked Dellin Betances in the seventh, pulling within 2-1 on a walk, a double by Denard Span and a wild pitch. That ended a streak of 31 scoreless innings by Yankees relievers.

A double by Giants pinch-hitter Mac Williamson off Andrew Miller (6-1) tied it in the eighth.

But the Yankees bounced back for the fifth win in six games, and didn't need to hit the ball hard to do it (see full recap).

Kemp homers twice in Padres' victory
WASHINGTON -- Matt Kemp homered twice and drove in four runs, rookie Luis Perdomo pitched seven solid innings and the San Diego Padres beat the Washington Nationals 5-3 on Friday night to snap a four-game losing streak.

Kemp hit a solo shot in the first inning and gave San Diego the lead for good with a three-run homer in the fifth. He has six homers in his last six games and the Padres have homered in 20 straight, the longest streak in the National League this season.

Perdomo (4-4) gave up two first-inning runs, then limited the National to two hits over the final six innings of his longest outing. Brandon Maurer pitched 1 1/3 innings for his fourth save.

Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy homered for Washington. The Nationals have lost four of five.

Tanner Roark (9-6) turned in his shortest outing since June 5, lasting just five innings. He allowed five runs on four hits and surrendered two homers in a game for the first time this season (see full recap).

Fowler sparks Cubs' win over Brewers in return
MILWAUKEE -- Dexter Fowler led off the first with a homer and drove in three runs in his first game back from the disabled list, powering the Chicago Cubs to a 5-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night.

Fowler went 3 for 4 with a walk and scored twice after being sidelined more than a month with a strained right hamstring. His two-run double to left with the bases loaded in the second drew rousing cheers from the bevy of Cubs fans visiting Milwaukee.

Jason Hammel (9-5) allowed four hits and two runs over five-plus innings for his second victory since the All-Star break for NL Central-leading Chicago. He never trailed after Fowler slugged a 3-1 pitch from Jimmy Nelson (6-8) over the center-field wall to lead off the game.

Hernan Perez had a run-scoring double for the Brewers, and Ryan Braun hit a solo homer.

There were so many fans in Chicago shirts that their boos drowned out cheers from Brewers backers when Braun stepped to the plate in fourth. Braun went deep to center on the first pitch of the at-bat from Hammel for his 14th homer of the year.

Hammel departed after allowing a leadoff double to Scooter Gennett in the sixth with the Brewers trailing 4-2. Reliever Carl Edwards Jr. then retired the Brewers' 3-4-5 hitters in order, capped by strikeouts of Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter on six pitches total (see full recap).

Zach Eflin tosses 1st shutout in Phillies' win over Pirates

Zach Eflin tosses 1st shutout in Phillies' win over Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH — Zach Eflin wasn’t the normal youth pitcher while growing up in Oviedo, Florida.

Though the lanky right-hander had the arm strength to overpower hitters, he concentrated more on pitching inside and keeping the ball low in the strike zone than trying to blow his fastball by everybody.
 
“I didn’t start throwing a slider or curveball until I was 16 or 17,” Eflin said. “I was taught at an early age that establishing the inside part of the plate allows you to throw your changeup effectively and opens things up so you can throw all your pitches. I wanted the changeup to be an effective pitch for me.”
 
The Phillies' rookie is showing in the early part of his major-league career that he learned his lessons well.
 
The 22-year-old had his best outing yet Friday night when he pitched a three-hit shutout — the first of his nascent career — to lead the Phillies to a 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the opener of a three-game series at PNC Park (see Instant Replay).
 
Eflin struck out six, had no walks and used an efficient 100 pitches to notch his second complete game. He also went the distance July 5 against the Atlanta Braves when he pitched a six-hitter and threw 92 pitches.
 
“One of the most exciting things about this season has been seeing the improvement of so many of our young pitchers,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “Zach has made such great strides in a short period of time.
 
“I’m happy for him. He’s a hard worker and a personable kid. He’s done a really good job.”
 
Eflin made his sixth straight quality start and is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA in eight outings since being recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley. The consistency Eflin is showing at such a young age is quite surprising in light of getting rocked for nine runs in 2 2/3 innings in his major-league debut by the Blue Jays on June 14 at Toronto.
 
“What impressed me the most after that debacle in Toronto is that Zach came back the next day and knew exactly what he needed to do in order to be successful and that was keep the ball down,” Mackanin said. “He’s been keeping the ball down ever since.”
 
Mackanin then smiled.
 
“He’s becoming one of my favorite pitchers,” the manager said.
 
Coming off a 2-5 homestand, the Phillies started a stretch in which they play 16 of 19 games on the road. Elfin got them off on the right foot at a venue where the Phillies were a combined 0-6 during the previous two seasons.
 
“It was great to pitch a shutout, a lot of fun,” Elfin said. “Having been out on the mound in the ninth inning before really helped. I knew I could finish the game.”
 
All-Star centerfielder Odubel Herrera broke out of his slump with three hits and two runs scored and catcher Cameron Rupp hit a two-run home run.
 
Herrera had two singles and a double after going 4 for 41 in his previous 11 games.
 
Herrera singled to lead off the sixth inning and scored the game’s first run on a single by Rupp. Herrera then doubled and scored on Andres Blanco’s single in the seventh to make it 2-0.
 
Rupp’s two-run shot, his 10th of the season, off Jon Niese in the ninth inning capped the scoring. Rupp had two hits and three RBIs.
 
Second baseman Freddy Galvis also had two hits, as did Blanco, who replaced third baseman Maikel Franco in the bottom of the third inning.
 
Franco was hit in the left wrist in the first inning by a pitch from Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole (5-6). He then singled in the top of the third before undergoing X-rays that were negative.

Eflin hit Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen in the rear end with a pitch in the bottom of the first inning, causing home plate umpire Tony Randazzo to warn both teams. There were no further incidents.
 
Franco had his hand wrapped after the game and said he did not know if he would be able to play Saturday afternoon. The ball hit Franco in the same spot where he suffered a fracture last August that caused him to miss most of the last six weeks of the season.
 
“I was scared at first because it was sore and was getting puffy,” Franco said. “I felt better [after getting treatment], though. I think everything will be fine.”

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Pirates 0

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Pirates 0

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH — Rookie Zach Eflin pitched his first major-league shutout in his seventh career start Friday night as the Phillies beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-0, to open a three-game series at PNC Park.
 
The 22-year-old allowed three hits, did not walk a batter and struck out six. He needed 100 pitches to finish his second complete game.
 
All-Star centerfielder Odubel Herrera broke out of his slump with three hits and two runs scored and catcher Cameron Rupp hit a two-run home run.
 
Herrera had two singles and a double after going 4 for 41 in his previous 11 games.
 
Coming off a 2-5 homestand, the Phillies started a stretch in which they play 16 of 19 games on the road with a win. The Phillies were a combined 0-6 in Pittsburgh during the previous two seasons.
 
Starting pitching report
Eflin made his sixth straight quality start since being rocked for nine runs in 2 2/3 innings in his major-league debut by the Blue Jays on June 14 at Toronto. He has allowed six earned runs in his last four road starts.
 
He faced just two batters over the minimum.
 
At the plate
Herrera singled to lead off the sixth inning and scored the game’s first run on a single by Rupp. Herrera then doubled and scored on Andres Blanco’s single in the seventh to make it 2-0.
 
Rupp’s two-run shot, his 10th of the season, off Jon Niese in the ninth inning capped the scoring. Rupp had two hits and three RBIs.
 
Second baseman Freddy Galvis also had two hits, as did Blanco, who replaced third baseman Maikel Franco in the bottom of the third inning. Franco was struck in the left wrist in the first inning by a pitch from Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole and was removed for what the Phillies said were precautionary reasons (see story).
 
Eflin hit Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen in the rear end with a pitch in the bottom of the first inning, causing home plate umpire Tony Randazzo to warn both teams. There were no further incidents.
 
Up next
The Phillies have two games remaining with the Pirates in the three-game series and will face a pair of rookies starting pitchers.
 
Saturday afternoon — RHP Aaron Nola (5-8, 4.41) vs. RHP Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 6.75).
 
Sunday afternoon — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.15) vs. RHP Jameson Taillon (2-1, 3.44).